The Lucky Moose, in the heart of Toronto’s Chinatown, would score high on any secret shopper report. The produce could not be fresher—purchased daily from wholesalers—and the staff of 14 is friendly and helpful. The owner is right there among them, and open to talking with customers. And reporters.

On May 23, 2009, a “career” shoplifter, the now-confessed-and-sentenced Anthony Bennett, was caught on the Lucky Moose surveillance camera stealing 12 money tree plants (worth $60), but he physically got away. An hour later, he returned with the intention of lifting more merchandise. In Mr. Bennett’s experience, there was little reason to worry about flagrant theft. He was well known to area small businesspeople for stealing. They were frustrated, but what could they do? Police response time was slow and merchants do not just grab someone.

Mr. Chen and two Lucky Moose employees apprehended the man and confined him while they waited for police. They knew from previous tedious experience that it could take up to five hours. The police arrived and the perpetrator was arrested. But so were Mr. Chen and those employees, in their case for forcible confinement, concealment of a weapon (the box cutters they use every day to open produce cases), kidnapping and assault. To add insult to injury, Crown prosecutors cut a deal with the thief. For testifying against the three citizens who got in the way of his criminal actions, he received a lighter sentence.

The media jumped on the story and the public was immediately outraged. That a hardworking store owner merely defending his property could be arrested and charged for it was unthinkable. Mr. Chen, however, was not the first to be indicted for nabbing a shoplifter. The difference in his story is that, as he puts it, he was lucky a good lawyer, Peter Lindsay, took on his case. Mr. Lindsay did not, as does most counsel, accept an “insulting” plea bargain that would drop only the kidnapping and assault charges. He demanded justice, and saw the case to its successful end.

The Lucky Moose Bill

Bill C-26, the Lucky Moose Bill, received Royal Assent on June 28, 2012, a little more than three years after Mr. Chen’s arrest. The existing citizen’s arrest legislation was so restricted that it allowed only for a citizen’s arrest to occur if the arrestee was caught actively engaged in a criminal offence. Now, “a reasonable amount of time” can pass before the arrest, within certain parameters. It, as with the old law, applies only in circumstances when it is not feasible for a police officer to make the arrest. “The police will continue to be Canada’s first and foremost criminal law enforcement body,” says Canada’s Department of Justice.

The police cannot be everywhere, as Mr. Chen and his peers in the retail industry know well, and now it is easier to act without their immediate presence. The price was high. It took an ordeal that was not only time-consuming and steeply expensive, but that had Mr. Chen accused of everything from violence to premeditation, when he merely did what anyone would do. Mr. Chen implies it was worth it. “I never thought I would change the law,” is offered with a smile from Dundas Street’s soft-spoken hero.